For public relations practitioners, both professionals and those who simply want to get the word out about their product, online media has traditionally been something to approach with skepticism and trepidation.
After all, can’t anyone make their own website? Back in the infancy of the consumer Internet, free web hosting services like GeoCities made it easy for just about anyone to do anything from post pictures of their kitty cat to masquerade as a legitimate online news or information source. Like any other burgeoning industry, the dot-com boom saw personal and for-profit sites skyrocket in both numbers and traffic. With the advent of search engine optimizing-technology, the plethora of useful sites has become more focused and refined.
Now, consumers turn more to online media than any other source. We are spending more time in front of screens, but the advent of tablet devices has made it easier and more casual to surf the web than ever before.
As a result, online media has been brought into the mainstream, quickly replacing print as the default medium of choice.
This should hardly be news, but to many it is still difficult to see the legitimacy of a digital-only publication. As a result, thousands of titles with devoted followers and, perhaps most importantly, a wide range of newcomers, are being ignored.
The rise of the tablet
NPD Group, a New York-based market research firm, recently reported that it expects more than 240 million tablets will be sold by 2015. Paramount to their success is their ability to seamlessly connect to the internet just about anywhere, whether they use home or commercial wifi networks, cell tower-based connectivity or even wifi in the sky 35,000 feet above the earth aboard a Boeing 737.
These tablets are rapidly displacing both books and newspapers as the default go-to source for entertainment and information. Need proof? Witness book store giant Borders’ recent Chapter 11 filing. How the mighty have fallen.
Tablet-based applications bring magazines to readers’ attentions like never before, offering them the ability to virtually sort through newsstands ten times the size they might encounter in real life. These online magazines aren’t fly-by-night publications like early GeoCities web pages. They take serious effort and hefty start-up costs to get running; investment is not for the faint of heart. Not surprisingly, readership is growing at an alarming rate.
Online magazines are packed with functionality beneficial to any advertiser – embedded videos, product tutorials and direct links to product websites mean the days of hoping your audience would remember to call your 1-800 number or log onto your site are long gone. Now, all they have to do is follow a link and they’re in your territory.
Of course, we can’t discount the power of traditional websites, which offer the easy-to-update functionality essential to news gathering.
Traditional print outlets have found their home online, but so have a vast array of startups, many of which have been around since the early days of the web. Their page views are often exponentially higher than print circulation and their cutting edge reporting is rapidly shared through other mediums like Digg, Facebook and Twitter.
Like any print publication, an online site requires some acclimation to ensure that it suits your target audience.
But the era where online media was ignored has ended, leaving print as a comparatively archaic dinosaur catering to a rapidly shrinking demographic. Don’t be skeptical or afraid of online media: Embrace it before you are left behind.